Today we will discuss about the space laws. The reason for laws on space is not just to facilitate access to, and the use of, space, but to favour cooperation between all nations, not only between space powers.

Space law can be described as the body of law governing space-related activities. The term “space law” is most often associated with the rules, principles and standards of international law appearing in the five international treaties and five sets of principles governing outer space which have been developed under the auspices of the United Nations.

The signing of the Outer Space Treaty in 1967. Credit: United Nations
The signing of the Outer Space Treaty in 1967. Credit: United Nations

Apart from the Partial Test Ban Treaty (related to use of nuclear ban test in atmosphere) there are five international treaties underpinning space law, overseen by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS).

1. The Outer Space Treaty

The treaty is the foundation of international space law for signatory nations (108 in 2019). The treaty presents principles for space exploration and operation:

  • Space activities are for the benefit of all nations, and any country is free to explore orbit and beyond.
  • There is no claim for sovereignty in space; no nation can “own” space, the Moon or any other body.
  • Weapons of mass destruction are forbidden in orbit and beyond, and the Moon, the planets, and other celestial bodies can only be used for peaceful purposes.
  • Any astronaut from any nation is an “envoy of mankind,” and signatory states must provide all possible help to astronauts when needed, including emergency landing in a foreign country or at sea.
  • Signatory states are each responsible for their space activities, including private commercial endeavors, and must provide authorization and continuing supervision.
  • Nations are responsible for damage caused by their space objects and must avoid contaminating space and celestial bodies.

2. The Rescue Agreement

Signatories agree to take all possible actions to help or rescue astronauts in need, and if applicable, return them to the nation from which they launched. Additionally, signatories agree to help return to the sponsoring nation any space objects that land on Earth outside of the country from which they were launched.

The deploying of the United States flag during the first crewed Moon landing (Apollo 11) on the lunar surface does not constitute a territorial claim, unlike historically practiced on Earth, since the US reinforced the Outer Space Treaty by adhereing to it and making no such territorial claim.
The deploying of the United States flag during the first crewed Moon landing (Apollo 11) on the lunar surface does not constitute a territorial claim, unlike historically practiced on Earth, since the US reinforced the Outer Space Treaty by adhereing to it and making no such territorial claim.

3. The Moon Agreement

The Agreement states that celestial bodies can only be used for peaceful purposes, that they should not be contaminated, that the UN should always be made aware of any station on a non-Earth body, and that if resource mining on the Moon becomes feasible, an international regime must be established to govern how those resources are obtained and used. It has not been ratified by any state that engages in self-launched human spaceflight (e.g. the United States, Russia (or its predecessor the Soviet Union), or the People’s Republic of China) since its creation on December 18, 1979, and thus it has little to no relevancy in international law.

4. The Liability Convention

Signatories take full liability for any damage caused by their space objects and agree to standard procedures for adjudicating damage claims.

5. The Registration Convention

Expanding a space object register, the Convention empowers the UN Secretary-General to maintain a register of all space objects.

Brief overview of six international treaties have been negotiated to govern state behaviour in space
Brief overview of six international treaties have been negotiated to govern state behaviour in space

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